Whenever I travel for business, I like to tune into local sports talk radio. It does my heart good to hear sports fans in other parts of the country bad-mouth their local teams with nearly the same intensity as they do in Chicago.

For instance, I traveled to the Atlanta area a few months ago to interview the winner of the “Best Contractor to Work For” contest in the Southeast; I picked up a rental car and while driving to my hotel, found an all-sports radio station.

The first words I heard were not from a caller ranting about the pending demise of the Atlanta Braves, but of Brian Estes, vice president of Estes Heating & Air Conditioning, the very company I was scheduled to visit the next morning. He was doing a commercial for his company.

One of the great debates in the HVACR industry concerns how a contracting company markets itself. Methods include Yellow Pages, direct mailings, cold calls, billboards, radio, local TV spots, and the contractor’s favorite (and most inexpensive), word of mouth.

The reasons for advertising range from seeking out more customers to maintenance of image. Much of what the Estes company does is in the latter category. It wants to let the Atlanta area know that a company that was formed in 1949 as a family-owned business is still going strong as a family-owned business.

There is significance to that position. The metropolitan Atlanta area is rapidly growing. In fact, Estes has grown with it to the extent of now having a customer base of some 200,000. Stressing that a company has more than 50 years in business communicates stability and familiarity.

Also, the Atlanta area, like many others, got caught up in the contractor consolidation fervor of six or seven years ago. A number of established companies with recognized individuals, who were also active in their communities, went the consolidation route. A number regretted the decision.

The Estes company was tempted but decided to stay independent. Now its marketing stresses the fact that it has always been a family-owned business and plans to stay that way.

Planning, Marketing

Whether the goal is to grow as rapidly as possible by adding more customers, or to grow the business by better serving existing customers, contractors need to consider all methods of marketing.

Not all may need to be used — and certainly no contractor can afford all means. But to go into business and wait for the phone to ring is not a marketing plan. Contractors may want to consider pushing the envelope a bit and stretching that advertising budget as much as possible.

I figure it this way. After the Estes commercial ran on Atlanta sports talk, the next 10 minutes consisted of callers moaning and groaning about the Falcons, Hawks, and Braves. Brian Estes’ pleasant voice and enthusiasm offered a welcome contrast.

Powell is refrigeration editor. He can be reached at 847-622-7260, 847-622-7266 (fax), or peterpowell@achrnews.com.

Publication date: 06/02/2003